Concordia’s book club courses aren’t like your typical college class. With a “book club” format, the students spend class time discussing a wide range of literature themes with each other.
“We want to provide a relaxed environment where students are able to discuss their interpretation of a book with other students,” said Dr. Amy Watkin, an associate professor of English who also teaches the courses. “The goal of the class is to reignite their love for reading and earn a credit or two at the same time.”
Each book gives a bite-sized story of the world, providing varying perspectives from different viewpoints and genres. The book club courses kicked off this spring and will continue to be offered each semester.
Why were these courses created?
“English faculty were hearing from students that they used to love reading but couldn’t find time anymore,” Watkin said. “Or how they wanted to read books and talk about them with others but couldn’t fit in a full-semester literature course, so we designed one-credit options.”
Froslie agrees that her time commitments get in the way of books she wants to read.
“I love reading, but I never get much chance to read for fun during the school year,” she said. “I thought this class would be a great way to read books that I’ve always wanted to read while still getting credit. Many of the books for the class were ones I have wanted to read for a long time but never got around to actually reading.”
What is taking a book club course like?
The classes are set up like a typical book club and center around student discussions about the book. They tackle not only classic works of literature but also more recently published, popular books.
“This course takes on a lot more modern literature than most of my other classes,” said English literature major Taylor Elton ’18.
One of the perks is that snacks are provided, just like a real book club.
“We focus on these great books we get to read,” Watkin said. “Most students see these courses as something fun they get to add to their regular course load.
How many credits are the courses?
Each book club course is worth one credit. Watkin describes them as “high impact, low workload.”
“There are very few one-credit courses on campus that allow students to ‘get their money’s worth’ by adding just one credit to a 16-credit load and fitting in the maximum 17 semester credits at no extra cost,” she said. “They can help you love literature and also demonstrate the power that stories have in our world. People who read books learn empathy and familiarize themselves with diverse voices in ways that others do not. Reading literature is a life skill and a really fun one to practice!”
What books do the classes read?
The books change every semester, and the classes combine a mix of modern and classic literature. There are currently four book club courses offered per semester, each focusing on a different overarching theme: love, conflict, identity and loss. Each course reads two books.
“I try to choose combinations of books that are related to each other in interesting ways,” Watkin said. “I will put a well-known, classic text like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with a book that people wouldn’t ordinarily place with a Jane Austen book, like Stephen King’s ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.’ But the book choices will change based on what’s happening in the world, who our current students are and what they’re interested in, as well as which books are particularly hot at that moment or addressing a timely topic.”
How are the books chosen?
Books are chosen by faculty before the courses begin, but students taking the course have a hand in helping decide what future book classes will read by offering suggestions.
“The books are picked for a number of reasons: the level of interest in them, their popularity, the challenges they represent, the diverse voices they capture,” Watkin said. “They are books that people around the world are reading and we now get a chance to join that global conversation.”
What’s a typical class like?
“We spend about two weeks on each book,” Watkin said. “The breakdown of the pages for each class depends on when the class is held. When the class is held once per week, then students read half a book each week. When the class is multiple times per week like it will be in the fall, we’ll read fewer pages per class meeting.”
Instead of being lecture based like most college classes are, the book club courses are more interactive and focus on students’ perspectives.
“Recently, we read the play ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,’ and one of our tasks was to act out the scene we most would like to see portrayed on stage,” Froslie said. “Or when we read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ we watched clips of different movie adaptations and discussed the differences between them.”
I’m not an English major. Can I take a book club course?
Yes! The classes are not directed at a particular major and are open to all majors to invite diversity of thought.
What are students saying about the class?
“I enjoy being able to discuss books with people of different majors. I spend my other classes talking about books with other religion and English majors, so I like being able to see what business and science majors think about the books that we are reading,” said Sara Funkhouser ’18, a religion and English literature double major. “I especially love the days when we all have different opinions of the book and we get to discuss why we feel the way that we do about them.”
Students from all majors who have taken a book club course say they appreciate the diversity in the class discussion.
“Many of the literature classes I’ve taken are often pretty small and full of English majors like myself,” Froslie said. “This class, however, has attracted people from all sorts of majors and it has been interesting to listen to some new perspectives.”
The classes have a good mixture of English majors and students from other fields of study.
“These classes are open to everyone. Anyone can take these classes and understand them,” said Ehi Agbashi ’18, a biology and psychology double major. “I have actually enjoyed all the books we have read so far, which was something I didn’t expect when I was signing up for the class.”
Watkin emphasizes that different industries are now looking for more diversity in their employees.
“Several industries, including business and medicine, are more often now looking for employees with some experience reading literature. People who read books learn empathy and familiarize themselves with diverse voices in ways that others do not,” she said. “The students seem to really enjoy the classes and many are taking more than one this semester or signing up for fall book clubs. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”